Why I don't teach lab safety the first week of school... and other back to school science teacher tips
It's almost time for me to start planning out my first week of school (yes it's crazy, I go back end of July). When I first started teaching, I spent the first week reviewing the syllabus, class rules, and (duh duh duh duhhhhh) spent time reviewing all the lab safety procedures. It just felt like the responsible science teacher thing to do. What I soon realized is the students were just plain bored... or nervous about finding their next class.... or thinking about who has the same lunch period as them... but they were NOT memorizing all those nice lab safety rules I was so carefully explaining. They are also reviewing rules in almost every other class and the chances of them remembering what you said those first few days are slim. So I decided to throw the "let's front-load all the rules that they will forget anyway" out the window and find more exciting activities for that first week.
I know some of you science teachers reading this are thinking "But I have to review rules the first week, because they need to sign a lab safety contract!" Yes, they do. (And if you don't have one handy, I recommend Flinn Science's contracts which you can download free here.) But is it really necessary the first few days? Here is my main argument on why you are wasting your time: Why are you teaching students to wear goggles and keep scalpels pointed down during dissections if you aren't actually getting to the dissection until April? Or why are you teaching them the proper way to carry and store a microscope when the microscopes don't come out of the cupboard until your cells unit in December? Students will just forget, and you will have to review the rules all over again anyway. Instead, wait until you get to the lab and then review the necessary rules. As far as the contract goes, have students read through it during class or at home with a parent and sign it. If they have any questions feel free to discuss them, but don't waste too much time on it. Here are a few ideas to do instead:
It's the beginning of the year, and chances are you are starting off teaching or reviewing the scientific method. If you've looked around on the internet for scientific method labs, you will notice that the majority are not biology related. Don't get me wrong- building paper airplanes, measuring bubbles, and seeing how many water drops can fit on the surface of a penny are fun labs, but not directly related to biology. In my class I want students to understand from the get-go that we are learning about living things, so I want my first lab to reflect that. Here are a few labs that can start your year off right:
1. Pulse Lab- This is a great lab because there are almost no supplies required other than a stopwatch. In this lab students measure their resting pulse, and compare it to their pulse standing up and holding their breath. It is a great way for students to practice writing hypotheses, and identifying independent and dependent variables. Before beginning the lab I start with a class discussion about what your pulse is, why blood needs to be pumped through the body, and where blood cells are made.
2. Firework Milk Lab- I have seen this lab done at ALL ages. Even preschool teachers love this lab. But the beauty of this lab is that high school students still love it, and they can finally start to understand the concept behind the fun swirling colors. In this lab students pour milk into a petri dish, add some food coloring, and put a drop of soap in the middle of the dish. Once the soap enters the dish the food coloring starts swirling and creating "fireworks." The reason the soap begins to mix the food coloring around is because of the chemical structure of the soap. The soap molecule has a polar portion that likes to mix with water, and a nonpolar portion that doesn't like to be around water. The soap molecules react with the fat molecules in the milk and start swirling around, which is visible from the movement of the food coloring. The fattier the milk, the better a reaction you will get. It is fun to have students test whole milk and skim milk and compare the results.
3. Testing the 5 Second Rule- This is my favorite lab to begin the year with, but it requires a little prep work. While you can order sterile agar plates from any science supply site, it is much cheaper to pour your own. If you haven't poured your own plates before, there are a ton of youtube tutorials available to walk you through it. In this lab students get to design their own experiment that would test whether or not food is really safe to eat after being on the ground for 5 seconds. When you purchase this lesson from my TpT store you will get two versions. In the high school version students design their own experiment, write their own procedures, and choose their own independent variable (food type, surface that they drop the food on, etc.) In the middle school version the procedures are given and it walks the students through the lab step by step. If you have an incubator the plates can be ready in 1 day, if not then let the plates sit over the weekend. Students will love seeing how much bacteria is on their food! You can even take it a step further and have students try and kill the bacteria with different cleansers (soap, bleach, 409, etc.) and see which is the most effective.
What other scientific method experiments do you love? Leave them in the comments below!
Can you believe it's already time to go back to school? Whether you are teaching a new subject this year, or just need to spruce up your curriculum, teachers pay teachers has the resources you need! We would love to help you pay for those resources! A bunch of secondary science sellers have some great giveaways for you! There are two ways to win:
1. Individual giveaways- Each seller pictured above is giving away individual prizes on their blogs! Check out the bottom of this post to win $25 worth of resources to my TpT store! There are multiple ways to win, so be sure to check out the rafflecopter below.
2. Group giveaway- We put together one HUGE blog hop giveaway, just for science teachers teaching in grades 6-12: 4 $100 Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards! Each blog post has a secret code word and number. My clue word is 9. Solutions. The number tells you where the word falls in the secret sentence. Collect the words from each blog, write them down in number order, and copy the secret sentence into the joint rafflecopter giveaway. This rafflecopter form is the same on every blog, so you only need to enter once from any one of our blogs!
Giveaway starts Monday at 12 noon and ends at midnight on Friday. Best of luck!
As teachers, we are always on a budget. Decorating classrooms can get pricey. When I first started teaching I was spending a fortune online and at teaching supply stores to buy science posters so my walls weren't so drab. Since then, I've been creating my own science posters that the library will print for me poster size and laminate. (You can see my variables posters above my whiteboard in the picture below). It has saved me a bunch of money! I have posters in my store, covering topics such as the rock cycle, cells, scientific variables, and more. Check them out here! You can buy the whole bundle and save!
I've also complied a list of other posters I have found online for free download:
1. Human Genome Poster- This is great to bring out during my genetics unit. Students can look up which genes and diseases are held on each chromosome.
2. Top 10 Reasons you should take Physics
3. Water Education Posters- many posters available on topics such as groundwater, watersheds, and water quality.
4. Scientific Method- Scholastic has created these posters on the scientific method
5. Earth at Night- Poster from NASA
6. Earthquakes and Seismology- from IRIS
7. March for Science- 6 free posters to celebrate women in science
Becca of Science Rocks
Hi, I'm Becca! I've been teaching science for 10 years at both the middle and high school levels.